Bringing EDI Into the Classroom (hint, it takes a village)

By Natasha Millar, Faculty, Pilon School Of Business

This past Fall, I had the opportunity to lead a Capstone Program which involved seamlessly embedding Equity, Diversity and Inclusion into a course curriculum. The program was envisioned and facilitated through a unique partnership between Pilon School of Business, Sheridan Student Union and Sheridan’s Black History Month Committee.  Students were asked to develop an integrated communications campaign designed to engage the Sheridan community in the upcoming Black History Month  events while finding new ways to keep the spirit of Black History Month  alive beyond the month of February.  This required students to not only leverage their newly acquired marketing and advertising skill set, but to quickly develop a deeper understanding of the social challenges facing the Black community, particularly Anti-Black racism.

Initially, the task to develop the curriculum seemed a little daunting.  As a novice myself to the many challenges Anti-Black Racism poses to our society, I was only successful because of the wealth of support offered by Sheridan , readily available research materials, and our Black Community’s involvement.  My efforts were enabled by a collaborative faculty team, a dash of creativity and the authentic intentions of everyone involved.  It truly was the village coming together that empowered us to bring forward such an important educational experience for our students.

Should you find yourself looking to embed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion  into your course curriculum, below I outline in a bit more detail, the top 3 key success factors and enablers I found to be critical on the journey. It started with unwavering organizational support at Sheridan.  Our leaders had a vision, spawned by the authentic intention to truly drive a more socially aware student body.  We had buy-in from all our partners and a very supportive team  offering guidance and coaching along the way.  There was an openness to creativity and doing things differently.  There was ongoing collaboration from the inception of the course mandate through to the completion of the Fall semester between the partners, myself and other faculty that were involved. 

In addition, the research I leveraged to prepare the class materials was credible and trustworthy, often recommended by either subject matter experts within Sheridan including the Department of Social Science and/or our  Sheridan Library Services team.  In addition, I was able to source recent case studies that examined recent Anti-Black racism issues in organizations like Starbucks and PepsiCo.  All were published by reputable sources like Harvard Business Review and Ivey Publishing and as I understand it, more research and cases will be published this year, as behind the growing demand for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion content by post secondary institutions. 

Perhaps the most invaluable enabler of all, was the support and mentorship offered by our very own local Black community.  Individuals like Ryan Knight, Sheridan Alumni and Founder/Executive Director of the African Canadian Business Network (ACBN)  and Nicola Harris, Senior Policy Analyst with the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) were indispensable in guiding class conversations and offering their personal experiences.  Their knowledge of the necessary actions to eradicate racism was inspiring, giving us all hope that if we could implement these progressive solutions, we could make a difference.  Their contributions helped both students and faculty alike, not only develop empathy and understanding, but encouraged us all to take action within our own spheres of influence and within the Black History Month  campaign ideas themselves.  

Should you endeavour to embed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion into your course, department, or personal sphere of influence, know this: while taking it on may seem ominous at first, you’ll never walk alone. You will be surprised, as I was, just how readily the village steps up to support your important, transformational and life changing initiative.  Good luck!

Natasha Millar is a Professor of Marketing and Advertising Communications in the Pilon School of Business

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